Child car seats normally come with a 5 point harness to secure the child into their seat. Some rear facing infant seats come with a 3 point harness. The job of the harness is restrain the child in an impact.
When forward facing, the harness spreads the force of an impact in 5 directions - across the shoulders, past the hips and through the crotch strap. It is very important that a child rear faces for as long as possible, as when they are forward facing they are restrained by the harness, but their head continues with the forward momentum. This puts stress and pressure on the neck that can result in serious injury or death.
By being rear facing, the 5 point harness still restrains the child, and in an impact they are pushed back into the child restraint, which spreads the force of an impact through the back of the child car seat and supports the child's head, neck and spine. This is the reason it is so important to keep your child in their rear facing child seat until they have reached the weight limit, or the height limit. Rear facing offers maximum protection and safety for your little one. If you are unsure what the rear facing limit is on your seat, check the child seat manual or ask the child seat manufacturer. The below chart also provides some guidelines:
An alternative to the 5 point harness is an impact shield style child restraint, which we will explore in a future post.